What is the central conflict of The Lesson? How is it resolved?

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The central conflict in "The Lesson " on one level is the resistance of the children to the "lessons" Miss Moore is trying to teach them. This conflict works in several ways. From a practical point of view, the conflict is a battle over attention: Miss Moore struggles to...

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The central conflict in "The Lesson" on one level is the resistance of the children to the "lessons" Miss Moore is trying to teach them. This conflict works in several ways. From a practical point of view, the conflict is a battle over attention: Miss Moore struggles to keep her students' attention, and the story, told from the point of view of one of the girls, captures the overactive mental energy of children. The narrator is processing what Miss Moore says, dismissing it, evaluating the responses of the other children, comparing herself to them, asserting her dominance, and thinking about what will come next, all at the same time.

On another level, the conflict as to do with the narrator's own realization about the experience Miss Moore has given them and her attitude about that realization. The trip to the toy store grounds in reality the things Miss Moore has been trying to teach them about money. Her realization that the cost of a single toy boat could more than pay for food for her whole family for a year, or that the $35 a toy clown costs could pay for new bunk beds, makes her angry and opens her eyes to class inequality.

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Sylvia, the narrator and protagonist of the story, seems to perceive Miss Moore as her antagonist in the story. As a child, she and her friend, Sugar, thought that everyone else was "old and stupid or young and foolish," and the girls thought that only the pair of them were "just right." Miss Moore, Sylvia says, moved into the neighborhood with "nappy hair and proper speech and no makeup," and so she and Sugar laughed at Miss Moore and "hated her too."

However, it soon begins to become clear that Sylvia's antagonist is not Miss Moore, a woman who is clearly trying to help to educate the children in the neighborhood about the world; rather, Sylvia's antagonist is the inequalities in society that account for Sylvia's parents' struggles, the poverty of her neighborhood, and the need Miss Moore feels to help these children who do not benefit from the racial and economic privilege enjoyed by others. Thus, the central conflict is of the character (Sylvia) vs. society variety.

Sugar says that this country "is not much of a democracy" because people do not have an "equal crack" at earning the money necessary to purchase luxury items (or even necessary items). Sylvia, however, does not come to such clear conclusions and understandings yet; instead, she says that she wants to go off by herself "to think this day through." She does, however, seem to recognize that she must fight the world, saying that "ain't nobody gonna beat [her] at nuthin." Thus, the conflict is not actually resolved at all but will continue for the entirety of her life unless incredible strides are made to make her society truly equal.

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The main conflict in “The Lesson” can be analyzed as one of two types: human versus themself or human versus society. The central character, Sylvie, is a pre-adolescent African American girl whose awareness of inequality and discrimination grows in the course of the story. She experiences internal struggles to process the information with which she is confronted on the field trip, as it is too much to absorb all at once. Miss Moore has stimulated this reflection but she has not offered any concrete steps to change the situation or to help the children cope emotionally. As one individual child, Sylvie can think ahead to the ways she wants to take charge of her life. Neither her personal conflict nor the large social conflict are resolved—and cannot be resolved—within the length of the story.

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"The Lesson," a short story written by Toni Cade Bambara, is narrated by Sylvia, a young black girl growing up in a poor area in 1970s Harlem, New York City. In order to teach them a "lesson" about how unfair the world is in terms of economic inequality, Miss Moore gathers a group of children from the neighborhood, including Sylvia, and takes them to FAO Schwarz, an expensive, upscale toy store in Manhattan.

Just looking at the window displays, Sylvia and the other children learn that there are people out there who can spend thousands of dollars on toys and trinkets, while the families of some of these children probably struggle to pay their bills. Before entering the store, Sylvia begins to feel a sense of shame, even though she knows she's "Got as much right to go in as anybody." Sylvia grows angry with Miss Moore for making her feel this way and then with her friend Sugar, who gives Miss Moore the satisfaction of knowing that they've all been taught a lesson.

The central conflict of the story stems from the fact that there are huge economic disparities between different groups living in the US and not everyone has access to the same resources. Through this day trip, Sylvia starts to become aware of the full weight of what this means for people like her and her friends: black children growing up in a poor neighborhood. This conflict isn't exactly resolved, but Sylvia's last line, "But ain’t nobody gonna beat me at nuthin," implies that she is not going to let the unfairness of the world stop her from doing anything she wants to do.

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